T he floor is one of the first features of a home you notice as you step in — it lends a strong sense of identity to the entire structure. So, when designing, making it the primary focus is important. Sticking to local materials and traditions is always preferred and in Tamil Nadu, Athangudi tiles are one such material.
The craft is native to Athangudi, a village in the Sivagangai district of Chettinad. The tiles are known for their colourful and intricate patterns, the creation of which, is an art in itself. Most designs used in Athangudi tiles are traditional, however, the designs can also be customised. Exuding a heritage appeal, the cement tiles are similar to mosaic and aren’t machine pressed, but handmade. Therefore, their manufacturing requires lesser energy, making the tiles environmentally sustainable, a factor most contemporary flooring options lack today.
The process of making the tiles involves placing a cast iron stencilled frame of the desired design onto a glass plate (which is the same size as the tile). A mix of the desired coloured oxide with cement slurry is then poured into these moulds. On top of this, a layer of locally available sand is placed, and finally a layer of cement mortar with cement, sand and aggregates is used. After setting, the frame is removed and a layer of dry sand and cement is sprinkled on top, kept aside and cured in water for 8-12 days. Once dry, the glass plate slips off and rice husk is placed on top of the tiles to absorb remaining moisture as well as retain sheen.
The tiles require low maintenance and attain sheen and polish over time. They are versatile and can be used in most parts of the house. You just need to ensure they aren’t used in places prone to oil or water spillage. Border tiles with interesting patterns can be used to accentuate staircase risers in combination with natural stone for the treads. Traditional wood and built-in furniture will accentuate the charm of the flooring.
Unfortunately, due to its relatively slow manufacturing process, the demand for Athangudi tiles is low. One hopes for more awareness and creative usage of these unique tiles in order to promote a traditional and eco-friendly craft.
The author is the founder of Green Evolution, a city-based sustainable architecture firm